Shemot (Ex) 27:20-30:10
One of the central features of synagogue worship, and our worship at Beit HaKadosh, is the weekly Torah reading. We have been following the traditional annual cycle both in our services and in this weekly commentary. These readings had been fixed by the first century, if not before, although in the first century there also existed a triennial cycle, where the Torah would be read over a three or three and a half year cycle. Even so, the annual tradition has a long history and the divisions of the Torah that make up the readings were formulated for very specific reasons. This brings us to our question for this week. Why was the teaching about the menorah and it’s oil placed with this week’s parashah when the more natural division, at least according to subject, would have placed it in last week’s portion about the Mishkan and we would begin this week’s parashah with the priestly vestments?
There is a very real connection to be made between the priesthood and the menorah, the light for the Mishkan. The people of Israel were to be a nation of priests. YHVH had chosen them to bring the light of His truth to all the nations of the world. That is one of the primary reasons He gave them Eretz Israel, it was at the crossroads of three continents and the best place from which to disseminate G-d’s truth. Their role as priests was twofold. They were to represent G-d to the people (nations) by teaching and instructing them His perfect ways, the ways of Torah. And they were to represent the people (nations) before G-d by offering up prayers and sacrifices on their behalf. The purpose of the priesthood of Israel, both the Aaronic and the ‘general’ priesthood, was to shine the light of G-d's truth to a world that had,to a great extent, forgotten it since the days of the flood.
Yahushua used the analogy of light all the time, and He specifically called His talmidim, the current faithful remnant of Israel, to fulfill this role of being light to the world.
“You are light for the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Likewise, when people light a lamp they don’t cover it with a bowl but place it on a lampstand so that it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way, let you light shine before people so that they may see you good works and praise your Father in Heaven.” Matt 5:14-16
We have been chosen for a task and that task is to be a ‘Holy Nation’ and a ‘Royal Preisthood’. In Yahushua’s words, we have been given light, the light of G-d’s truth, the light of revelation, the light of Torah, the light of Messiah Himself. We are to take that light and let it ‘shine’. We are not to be like the wicked servant who took what he had been given and bury it in the ground. We are to take it and display it so that everyone may see. We are to fulfill our role as priests, teaching people G-d’s truth and interceding for them before G-d. And the result of all this is so that they may see our ‘good works’ and praise our Father in Heaven. Our obedience to Torah separates us and glorifies G-d. Therefore it should not be hidden either. We should proudly display the garments, celebrations and unique requirements of our priestly position. Then we and our communities will be a bright menorah before the throne of YHVH (Rev 1:20) whose light will bring pleasure to both our G-d and those around us.
The major part of this week’s parasha is a description of the garments of the high priest. The ephod, the breastplate, the turban and all the gold and precious stones with which it was adorned are all described in exacting detail. And the various functions of the pieces of his vestments are also described, how the techelet makes atonement, the urim and thummim render judgment, how he bears the names of the tribes of Israel before G-d as a remembrance. But there is more here than simple symbolic adornment for a single man who had the privilege to stand before G-d in the holy place.
The materials which adorned his vestments are significant for what they represent to all of us. Each one of us is a priest in G-d’s kingdom as part of Israel through the Messiah. The vestments of the priesthood are there to remind us who we really are. There are striking parallels between the stones that were part of this high priest’s garments and those described in Ezekiel 28:12-13;
Mortal, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord GOD: You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, carnelian, chrysolite, and moonstone, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald; and worked in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared.
Unlike most Christian commentators who see this as a description of Lucifer, many Jewish commentators apply this to the adam. G-d adorned the adam with all this beautiful work as the crown of creation. The description reminds us of what once was before we fell from that wonderful and perfect state. It is a reminder that we have the potential for that kind of existence because that is what we were created for.
The high priest, because of his position and activities in the holy of holies, is a representation of that state in the here and now. In a very real sense he ‘reenacted’ the situation in Eden before man sinned and intimacy with G-d was made a lot more difficult. The high priest had the opportunity to fellowship with G-d in that way, to meet with G-d at the mercy seat, to see the glory of G-d face to face. In those vestments he is a symbol of what once was and the potential for all of us to recapture that state of being. As the priests of YHVH we too should be adorned with every precious stone set in gold, we should be clad in a white robe with the name of G-d written upon us for this is who we really are, precious and unique and glorious among all the creatures G-d created.
We are created in the very image of G-d, His glory is reflected in us, or at least it should be. When you read about the high priest, picture the garments, the stones the gold, the pure white linen, the wonderful, glorious appearance. And then think about yourself decked out in the same way. It is for this we were created, sometimes it helps to stop and think about who we are and why G-d made us. There is power for living in that realization if we choose to walk according to our original programming and as close to that perfect state of being that the high priest represents.
5761 This weeks parasha continues the description of the tabernacle, specifically the garments of the priests who were to serve in it. So much gold and beauty. Even the priests were required to be models of physical perfection. Could you imagine the anti-discrimination people in the government getting hold of this?! The question is why is all this necessary? Cannot G-d be worshipped anywhere? Does G-d not accept the worship of everyone? Why was all this physical perfection necessary?
The Talmud tells the following story: The great sage Rabbi Yehoshua was the epitome of wisdom and kindness. Which is why a Roman countess was so stunned when she met him and found that he was so physically unattractive. The countess commented on the tremendous contrast between his inside and outside. In response, Rabbi Yehoshua suggested that she pour some of her most precious wine into gold containers. She did this, and a few days later discovered to her horror that the wine had spoiled.
Rabbi Yehoshua explained that he meant to demonstrate how oftentimes a beautiful external appearance can ruin a more important internal aspect. The countess replied in protest that she knew many handsome men who were also good and wise! Rabbi Yehoshua responded that had these men not been so handsome, they might have been even more wise and kind!
While Rabbi Yehoshua clearly made his point, the issue is, of course, far more complex. For instance, the Torah itself notes the physical beauty of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Surely the Torah is not telling us of their limited greatness! In Jewish mysticism, physical appearance is even considered reflective of a deeper spiritual makeup. The Kabbalists explain further that at the time of the Messiah, a person's physical appearance will reflect the level of enlightenment that their soul has achieved.
Physical beauty can be a great asset or it can be a detriment. If a young girl grows up hearing about her beauty and constantly has people fawning over her because of it, she may not be motivated to develop the more important aspects of personality and spirit. A handsome man can use that for the glory of G-d as did the high priest, or the power of charm can be used to fulfill self and hurt others, as our past president illustrated.
We are all given assets by G-d, be they physical, mental or spiritual. The question is what do we do with them? Do we use all we have for his glory or do we serve self. Two of Aaron’s sons made the wrong choice and is the perfect environment of the Tabernacle there was no room for error. May we all make the right choice and characterize our lives by humility and service.
“You shall make linen breeches for them to cover the flesh of their nakedness, from the hips to the thighs shall they be. They shall be on Aaron and his sons when they enter the tent of meeting or when they approach the altar to serve in holiness and they should not bear sin and die, it is an eternal decree for him and his offspring after him.” 28:42, 43
These ‘breeches’ appear to be a rather important piece of clothing for Aaron. There are other things he must wear in the holy place; the bells, for instance, must be worn that he not die. But it is these ‘underwear’ that are even more crucial, by not wearing them he would bear ‘sin’ and die. This is not just missing the mark either, which would be ‘chutat’, he is not simply warning Aaron to make sure be pulls the right pair out of the drawer. It is much more serious and involved than that.
The word used for ‘sin’ here is “a’on” which while it is sometimes translated as sin, refers to things that are a bit more serious-guilt, perversity, iniquity. It is first used of Cain in the murder of his brother (Gen 4:13). It is used to describe the ‘iniquity’ of the Amorites on which Israel will execute judgement when they come into the land (Gen 15:16). In Gen 19:15 it described the activities of the people of Sodom and in the ‘Ten Commandments’ it refers to someone who engages in idolatry. So if Aaron and his sons do not were the proper underwear, they are putting themselves in the same category as Cain, the Amorites, the Sodomites and other idolaters. This is serious!
Clothing is an interesting topic in the Scriptures and while we do not have the time in this short commentary to go into all of it, let’s look at some of the basics to see why Aaron’s breeches were so important. We know that in the beginning we did not need clothing, ‘they were naked and not ashamed’. When Adam and Eve decided to take the path of their own knowledge instead of the path of wisdom they had previously, they became aware of their unclothed state and felt guilty. Their focus had gone from God and things spiritual to things physical. They felt the need to cover up so they sewed fig leaves together. They made their own clothing. It was inadequate. God provided for them the skins of animals to clothe themselves. An animal had to die in order to cover up their nakedness. To cover is ‘Kippor’, atonement. In our fallen state we need atonement, covering up, in order to be in relationship with our creator. And that covering needs to be provided by God, our own attempts are feeble at best.
Back to our word of the day “a’on”-iniquity. It is comprised of an ayin, which in the ancient pictographs means an eye, to depress or perhaps pierce (a piercing look); a vav which is a picture of a nail; and a nun, a seed. Put that together and you have something like ‘depressing or piercing a nail in the seed’, an obvious reference to Yahushua made more obvious by the fact that he was crushed/broken for our a’on-iniquity (Isa 53:3). It is our a’on that necessitates sacrifice in order to provide for our covering, our atonement. It is not something we can provide for ourselves, it is something God must provide for us. We do not come before God on our own terms but on His. For Aaron and his sons, they must wear the clothing God designated in order to come before Him, nothing else will do. We must wear the garments God provide for us, clean white garments washed in the blood of His sacrifice, in order to be in His presence.
The clothing of the Kohen HaGadol is beautiful, intricate and filled with meaning. They are, after all, for ‘glory and splendor’. Glory is ‘kevod’ which actually has the connotation of ‘heaviness’ and can also mean abundance, glory and honor. In other words, something glorious is something ‘substantial’. To experience the ‘glory of God’ is to have a concentrated and substantial presence of God as opposed to the uniform and diluted presence that is extant throughout the universe. The vestments were representative of this. The second word is ‘tiferah’ which is something beautiful or finery with the purpose of elevating in rank or importance. The garments were to show the primary place of the high priest in the nation.
The whole of the garment was for these purposes and each individual part has it’s own significance and contributes to the whole. Let’s look at one of these things in particular, the stones on the ephod. The ephod was a sash/apron that went over the tunic and on the shoulders of this garment were two stones engraved with the names of the children of Israel. The purpose of the stones was for a ‘remembrance stones for the children of Israel’. This was a different purpose than the breastplate which also had the names of the sons of Israel engraved on individual stones. The breastplate was ‘a remembrance for YHVH’ when Aaron went in the sanctuary. The stones on his shoulders were to bring something to the minds of Israel. The question is, what?
The stones we are talking about were shohan stones. What are these? The general consensus based on the renderings of the Septuagint and the testimony of Josephus is that they are some form of onyx. Onyx is a silicate mineral with light and dark layers or striations within it. One of them is white and the other, depending on the onyx, can be a dark green, red or black. The way it is described in the Bible, it was a precious stone often associated with gold in value. The first time we see this one is in Genesis where the first river of Eden ‘surrounds’ the land of Havilah where there is gold and the shoham stone. The only other place we see this stone referred to is in association with the high priest’s garment, in Job where is is associated with gold in value and in Ezekiel’s description of the king of Tyre.
Now that we have an idea what it is, we can ask; why was it used, what was it supposed to remind the children of Israel of? It’s use in Bereshit 2 is significant. Havilah was the first land outside of Eden. The rivers ‘surrounded’ it so do not picture a river that runs through the middle but a series of concentric circles of land with rivers dividing them. This is also the picture of Atlantis, some of whose traditions picture the pre-flood world. Eden was in the middle and each ring of land and river moved farther away. Each land then is representative of the spiritual journey to Eden, the presence of God-which the high priest experienced in the holy of holies. Havilah is the last land before Eden, it is the gateway, so to speak. It is given a greater description than the other three combined, no doubt for this reason. The description included gold and shohan stones along with bedolach. All three are associated with Israel in the desert. The gold and shohan stones are used in the Mishkan and the bedolach is associated with the miracle of the manna, the bread God provided.
In order to enter Eden a certain ‘spiritual’ state needs to be achieved, a certain ‘mindset’ has to be adopted. The purity of gold and the purity of life and mind are analogous. One must partake of the bread of God; he is the sole provider and is relied on completely. The nomadic lifestyle creates this mindset. The shohan stone is there to teach us the principles of ‘echad’. Echad is a unity of all things. Within the shohan stone are black and white layers, light and darkness are combined into one inseparable whole. It is separation that causes all the sin and misery in the world. When we see ourselves as separate our ego grows and it is the ego that causes suffering. The shohan stone reminds us that reality is unified, that all things combine to make the whole, not as individual parts like a puzzle but as if each part represents the whole equally. Israel was supposed to demonstrate echad as a people, a lesson they often failed to grasp. If we want to enter Eden and experience God, we need to understand the reminder of the shohan stones.